Cost what it may, Mahmoud Abbas says "We will go to the UN"

Palestinians are in a mess, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas held a press conference at the Muqata’a in Ramallah to try to address concerns that have increased recently.

The immediate solution he is proposing going back to the UN — this time, to the UN General Assembly — a strategy that many advised the Palestinian leadership to pursue a year ago. But instead, he decided last year to start at the UN Security Council with a demand for full UN membership.

This year, he said, the exact content of the request, which he will either make or merely allude to when he addresses the annual “High-Level Segment” of the UN General Assembly on 27 September, will be determined only after Palestinians carry out consultations with “friends”.

It is not possible to go to the UN General Assembly with the exact same request that was tabled a year ago in the UN Security Council – unless Palestinian “UN bid” is either withdrawn from the UN Security Council, or pressed to a vote which the Palestinians know they will lose, both because 1.) they don’t even have the minimum number of affirmative votes, which is nine out of the Security Council’s 15 members, and also because 2.) even if they did, the U.S. has promised Israel it will exercise its veto to block such a move.

Muhamed Shtayyah, a member of the Fateh Central Committee and adviser to Abbas, said in early June that the new move in the UN General Assembly will ask for recognition of the State of Palestine within the 1967 borders.

Abbas said today that the Palestinians will go back to the UN because “Israel doesn’t meet its obligations, which are 1.) to stop settlements and 2.) recognition of the 4 June 1967 borders.

There has been huge pressure to stop this move, Abbas said, “in all forms – visual, audio, and written”, but “We . will . go . to . the . UN”.

“We will say we are a state under occupation”, Abbas said.

Abbas asked: “Why does the US. Not want us to go to the UN? Why?” He noted that there are, after all, 133 states that do recognize the State of Palestine — with Jerusalem as its capital.

“East Jerusalem is the capital of the state of Palestine, whether or not Obama or Romney say it”, Abbas noted.

Abbas added that “the occupied territories are occupied and the whole world knows it”.

What Palestinians are claiming, he said, is all Palestinian territory to which the Fourth Geneva Convention applies. That means, he indicated, “the West Bank, and by that we mean East Jerusalem and the Dead Sea, too — as well as no-man’s land [in various areas around the perimeter of the West Bank, and in Jerusalem], and there are 47 square kilometers of no man’s land”.

The Palestinians have been claiming the equivalent of half the no-man’s land, as divided down the middle. This can be traded in swaps, negotiators have indicated.

He asked: Why does Israel want to stay in the Jordan Valley, and not on the borders with Lebanon or Egypt? Because, he said, “their investments in the Jordan Valley produce tens of millions of dollars” each year.

Abbas said that recent previous Israeli governments – especially Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s – had clearly indicated that the borders they were looking at were the pre-June 1967 lines “except 20 square kilometers”.

He indicated that the Israeli government refused to have third party intervention, particularly in the Jordan Valley in which Israel has indicated it wants to maintain its positions for 40 years. “We refused”, Abbas said, “and we will not accept”.

And he also said that Israel refused to release 123 of the longest-held Palestinian prisoners, jailed before the Oslo Accords were signed between Israel and the PLO. “Israel agreed on releasing only 50”, Abbas told journalists, and the release of those 50 persons would be divided and extend over a four-year period. Though the cases of these longest-held prisoners are important, so are those of the other nearly-5000 Palestinians being detained by Israel, which Abbas did not mention.

The decision to make a “political approach” to the UN was approved by the PLO Executive Committee some 2 to 3 years ago, and about 3 to 4 years ago in the Central Committee, Abbas explained.

“As for radical solutions [to our problems], there are none, except the occupation must come to an end”, Abbas said. “In an independent, free state, I can do what I want”.

Abbas announced in his press conference today that the PA is unable to pay full salaries “this month”.

The chants in recent demonstrations across the West Bank have been against PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, but “they are even chanting against me – read Facebook”, Abbas said. “Salam Fayyad is a responsible part of the PA, but I am the first one to be responsible. Let them curse whatever they want”.

Abbas said that “for 64 years we’ve been living under difficult conditions, but people here are living better than in Lebanon, and all are living better than those in Syria”.

The type of protest seen this week had a prototype in the beginning of the year, after Fayyad, in response to donor pressure, proposed to raise revenue for the PA by increasing personal taxes — a suggestion that showed he was deeply out of touch with the popular mood. Rising prices have for months been deeply affecting everyone’s budget — and only a few West Bankers fit the stereotype of the well-to-do that have been enthusiastically portrayed in international media reporting of a supposed “Ramallah Bubble”. The protest against the Fayyad tax hike proposal was organized in Eizariyya, mostly by Fatah, and choked off a key intersection through which all Palestinian traffic must pass to reach the southern West Bank, at the peak rush hour of Thursday afternoon when PA employees were returning to their families at the end of their work week in Ramallah. Some people were frustrated and angry, but most reportedly shouted that they were with the protest.

The crisis may get worse, with the coming Palestinian move in the UN General Assembly – though Abbas was careful to make clear that the exact timing and the content of the move has not yet been determined – though Abbas did mention that the Palestinians will be asking the UN General Assembly for non-member observer status.

However, the exact content of the request is not finalized, and it will depend on the advice of “friendly countries”. The timing – that is, when to formally table the request, and when to press for a vote – may well wait until after the forthcoming U.S. Presidential election in November, or even beyond.

“At least, let us present our demand in the name of the Fourth Geneva Convention”, Abbas told journalists in the Muqata’a.
Abbas explained he decided to do this because the situation is terrible, and there is a political impasse in the negotiations with Israel — despite the Quartet demand for negotiations “on an international basis”, he said, made on the day he tabled the “UN bid” last 23 September. The negotiations did take place, he said, had been “sponsored by Jordan, to a large extent — but the outcome was zero”.

Abbas said he knows there will be consequences – but the decision has nevertheless been made: “We . will . go . to . the . United . Nations”.

Most journalists expected that the main reason Abbas had called the press conference was to address the wave of economic protests that had spread across the West Bank in the past week, focussing on the high cost of fuel. Taxis and trucks blocked key intersections in Ramallah during rush hour on Thursday. The demonstrators mostly addressed Salam Fayyad, but some also mentioned Abbas — as he himself said he read on Facebook.

Abbas said there were grievances, people can make mistakes, and he said “we are not against them”. But, he said, the protests must be peaceful and not destroy public property, burn tires in the streets, or force shops to close. He also said there would be a meeting of the Government and private experts on Monday to consider the economic crisis.

Israel has previously withheld VAT and customs duties it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, to prevent it from submitting last year’s “UN bid” — which it criticized for being “unilateral”.

The U.S. stopped USAID projects last August, resuming them quietly and partially later — and saying that aid should not be stopped unless and until the Palestinians resume their efforts to go to the UN… That did not, however, stop Congressional supporters of Israel have blocked further disbursements.

But U.S. support for Palestinian security [that is, for Palestinian security capable of coordinating with Israel] has not diminished.

When asked directly by a Palestinian journalist today, Abbas said that he is not ready to stop security cooperation with Israel, asking: “In whose favor is this? It is not in favor of Israel”.

“If we reach conclusions that relations with Israel are futile, we’ll say so”, Abbas noted. “But, “we’re [still] trying”.

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